Deaf women have a voice and I believe it is high time we start listening to them. For when we don’t, we allow injustice and abuse to fester. There are many problems plaguing women in the Caribbean. For deaf women, the language barrier makes them doubly vulnerable.
Imagine being a deaf woman or girl and being a victim of abuse or mistreatment. In the case of sexual and domestic abuse, hearing women and girls may be made to fear the outcomes of speaking out against their abuser. For deaf women and girls, who are already accustomed to being overlooked by hearing society, speaking out is even more difficult. Deaf women are unfortunately too accustomed to having someone else speak for them because they are seen as unequal or not intelligent enough. How are they supposed to navigate the legal and justice system if they haven’t acquired a language or the information isn’t accessible in their sign language?
Schools for the Deaf only exist at the primary school level and if a deaf girl wants further education, she must be mainstreamed into a hearing school with little probability of an interpreter. Without an education, deaf women and girls don’t have the same skills and opportunities as other women and they are forced to stay in lower ranking jobs or remain unemployed.
Because of this, deaf women are often dependent on others. I know of a distressing case of a hearing man accused of molesting his deaf daughters and abusing his deaf wife. Apart from the familiar shame and stigma of admitting that abuse is happening, deaf women and girls are often unable to get justice because they are accustomed to not being heard and are dependent on their abusers.
It infuriates me to see deaf women being treated as if they don’t have a voice and can’t articulate what they want for themselves. Far from being inarticulate, most deaf women in Trinidad and Tobago use Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language which is just as grammatical and expressive as a spoken language. Those who have not acquired a sign language, have a right to be taught one according to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Convention also stipulates that not only do they have the right to education but also to information, in a language that is accessible to them.
Governmental services and legal information must be accessible to deaf women so that they know their rights. We need psychological and counselling services in place to help deaf women with the challenges they face. We need to see that it is important to have interpreters in the legal and justice system so that a deaf woman does not feel like it is useless to seek help for fear of not being listened to.
We must remove the barriers that keep deaf women from standing equally with their sisters.
Kristian Ali is an aspiring linguist and when she isn’t thinking about languages, she’s thinking about how the world could be improved for all. She blogs at langwitch.xyz